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'People looked at me strangely. They didn't get why I left my job as a doctor to publish books'

When Eileen Forrestal’s business and medical careers clashed, one had to go.

Eileen Forrestal Co-founder, Get Up and Go Publications

AT THE TIME I started my company, I was working as an anaesthetist in Sligo General Hospital, and I got involved in business by chance.

In the early 1990s, I found a small diary called the Irish Survivors Diary. It was a motivational diary and something I used because I found it helped me with my own challenges in life.

I used the diary for years, and in 2006 I was doing some fundraising for a cycle I was planning across Vietnam for ActionAid and it just so happened that I met the creator of the books, Glenda Devlin.

I asked if she would donate some of the proceeds of her Christmas sales for the diary, but it turned out that she wasn’t going to do the diary any more. That hit me. I found it quite devastating because I loved the diary. But it wasn’t dead in the water.

She asked me if I was interested in a partnership and I thought, “Oh my goodness, I know nothing about business, publishing or anything like that.”

But rather than let it go out of circulation, I said to her that I would do anything to keep it alive and kicking. So I went into partnership with her.

Eileen Forrestal 1 Eileen Forrestal Source: Get Up and Go Publications

Double jobbing

That was in 2006 and the country was up and going, so the title ‘survivors’ didn’t sit comfortably with me. I was more interested in thriving than surviving, so we changed the name to the ‘Get Up and Go Diary’.

Then in 2008, my partner Brendan came on board because he was working in construction at the time and saw that the industry was taking a dive. He was a great salesperson – something myself and Glenda had no real knowledge of.

For several years as it was growing, myself and Glenda, who is a teacher, ran the little business ourselves. I was only working part-time as an anaesthetist so that gave me time to focus on the publication business.

I continued to juggle the two jobs for almost 10 years, but in 2014 I decided I would retire from medicine and try full-time with the business.

Based on the feedback we were getting, I felt I could make more of an impact on people’s wellbeing through the publications industry.

Financially, it may have appeared like a difficult decision to leave my job as a doctor, but it wasn’t really. I was already working part-time and had downsized from a full-time salary.

People around me might say, “Why would you stop that and go into publishing? You have a secure job and a profession.”

My colleagues would look at me a bit strangely and even my family looked at me and said I should think about my education and all the effort I had put into getting that far.

Not everyone thought it was the right thing to do, but I looked at the world around me and saw all of the problems people had which were self-generated and I wanted to help address that.

I used to be a smoker, and I knew nobody put a cigarette in my mouth – I took every cigarette out of the packet myself. When I stopped, I stopped myself, so I wanted to see if I could, through the books, help more people to help themselves.

In my work I also saw the unhealthy diets and weights people were carrying and thought there must be another way of addressing this because the health service certainly isn’t. Producing motivational diaries might not jump out as an obvious fix, but it was an idea.

No regrets

I haven’t regretted leaving medicine for a moment, but at the same time wouldn’t trade a second of time I spent as a doctor.

The wealth of experience I built up dealing with people has been invaluable and I have met characters from every walk of life.

I spent 32 years in the health service and went through every specialty from general practice, psychiatry, emergency, obstetrics – I did everything.

But you can’t reach that many people when you’re working in medicine. You give 100% to the person you are seeing, but you only have one set of hands.

Do I miss medicine? I actually don’t. I loved it while I was doing it, but this is a very exciting field to be in.

Publications is also a nice change of pace. In my job as an anaesthetist I was always on the edge of life and death, but nobody is going to die with what I do now. There’s great freedom in not worrying that someone is going to come to harm from what I do.

I know it’s a business and there are always cash-flow issues, but there hasn’t been a ‘downer’ moment since I got involved. Maybe I’m lucky that with my career and background I had set myself up reasonably comfortably financially.

I don’t want to take away from anybody else who is starting off in business and needs the money for their company to survive though – it’s tough, takes dedication and hard work.

I have savings and investments that I was keeping for a rainy day and this is what I’ve chosen to spend it on – even though the savings are going pretty fast.

Capture1111 Source: Get Up and Go Publications

Stammer

As well as publications, the business has now moved into running motivational speaking events, with one coming up later this month in Sligo.

The move into events is more of an evolution than a divergence. It means I get to meet extraordinary people and help them share their advice with others.

I wouldn’t say I’m into public speaking myself though, but it’s an area I’d like to get into.

Years ago I had a stammer and I think it was nerves that really stopped me from participating. I was just nervous that if I tried to speak, the words wouldn’t come out.

So I made a decision when I was 13 not to speak – it probably wasn’t the most sensible idea. I figured out that the easiest way to cope with a stutter was not to speak at all or put myself under any pressure.

Even as I went through medical school, I just refused to do presentations and had a mantra, “You can shoot me, you can jail me, but you cannot make me speak.”

Over the years, I’ve learned to put myself out of my comfort zone and after getting into business 10 years ago I’ve done more speaking than ever before in my life.

Not being afraid to speak has opened up lots more opportunities. For instance, one day somebody suggested we apply to be on Dragons’ Den.

I thought it would be good publicity for the diary and we got accepted. That’s when it kicked in that we would need to have our homework done to make sure any cross-examination that came from the dragons on our facts and figures wouldn’t let us down.

So even though we were, and are, tiny, we started to think about how the business is structured and made sure the foundations were solid. It was really good training and we did mini Dragons’ Dens for ourselves to practice.

It was a great experience going on television, but my mother was worried and would say to me, “Eileen, what if people see you? You’re a doctor, you can’t be going on those shows.”

In the end, it became too difficult to do both aspects of my working life – business and medicine – well. I needed to choose.

Fortunately I’m delighted with my choice. Now that I have retired from medicine, I feel I have more freedom to speak my mind.

I don’t feel confined and the fact that the diaries got onto the bestseller list this year means we must be doing something right.

Eileen Forrestal is the co-founder of Get Up and Go Publications and is running a motivational talk series on 21 and 22 April in Sligo. This article was written in conversation with Killian Woods as part of a series on unlikely entrepreneurs.

If you want to share your opinion, advice or story, email opinion@fora.ie.

Written by Eileen Forrestal and posted on Fora.ie

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About the author:

Eileen Forrestal  / Co-founder, Get Up and Go Publications

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